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Cooperative Banking, Wave of the Future for a Sustainable Form of Banking

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© Fibonacci Blue/flickr
Are cooperative banks the wave of the future?
As our political system sputters, a wave of innovative thinking and bold experimentation is quietly sweeping away outmoded economic models. In 'New Economic Visions', a special five-part AlterNet series edited by Economics Editor Lynn Parramore in partnership with political economist Gar Alperovitz of the Democracy Collaborative, creative thinkers come together to explore the exciting ideas and projects that are shaping the philosophical and political vision of the movement that could take our economy back.

According to both the Mayan and Hindu calendars, 2012 (or something very close) marks the transition from an age of darkness, violence and greed to one of enlightenment, justice and peace. It's hard to see that change just yet in the events relayed in the major media, but a shift does seem to be happening behind the scenes; and this is particularly true in the once-boring world of banking.

In the dark age of Kali Yuga, money rules; and it is through banks that the moneyed interests have gotten their power. Banking in an age of greed is fraught with usury, fraud and gaming the system for private ends. But there is another way to do banking; the neighborly approach of George Bailey in the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life. Rather than feeding off the community, banking can feed the community and the local economy.

2 + 2 = 4

Quebec Students, Government to Resume Negotiations

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© Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Canada, Montreal - Quebec students and the provincial government return to the bargaining table on Monday in a high-stakes attempt to put an end to a months-long dispute over tuition hikes that has led to clashes with police and mass arrests.

The latest round of talks comes at a crucial time for the Quebec government, with thousands taking to the streets nightly in protest and Montreal's peak tourism season fast approaching.

Representatives from the province's four largest student associations are scheduled to meet with the province's education minister in Quebec City.

Leo Bureau-Blouin, the head of one of student group, said Sunday the talks represent a "last chance" for the government to put an end to the conflict.

Students have called for a tuition freeze. The government has ruled out that possibility. The last round of negotiations was a marathon session that went more than 24 hours straight, ending in a government offer that was overwhelmingly rejected.

The French-speaking province's average undergraduate tuition - $2,519 a year - is the lowest in Canada, and the proposed hike - $254 per year over seven years - is tiny by U.S. standards. But opponents consider the raise an affront to the philosophy of the 1960s reforms dubbed the Quiet Revolution that set Quebec apart not only from its U.S. neighbor but from the rest of Canada.

Chess

Obama's Re-election No Longer Guaranteed?

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© Getty Images
Dark horse: a short while ago, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney was not given a chance in the US election, but now the picture looks different
Until recently, Barack Obama's re-election was regarded as inevitable - in the same way that summer follows spring, or a monsoon follows a hosepipe ban. The president's poll lead over Mitt Romney was strong, while the Republican's character was assassinated by a primary fight that permanently spoiled the reputation of his party. To court the GOP's conservative base, Romney was forced to adopt positions on abortion, contraception, health care and welfare that are thought to be unpopular among moderate swing voters. Obama, by contrast, is the man who killed bin Laden and toppled Gaddafi. A choice between Obama the moderate statesman and Romney the craven conservative is surely no contest at all.

But in the last two weeks, things have changed. Obama's re-election is no longer guaranteed; some pollsters think it is unlikely. Day by day, the odds are improving that Mitt Romney will be the next President of the United States.

What changed? For a start, voters are getting gloomier about the economy. Joblessness remains high and debt is out of control. According to one poll released this week, only 33 per cent of Americans expect the economy to improve in the coming months and only 43 per cent approve of the way that the president has handled it. Voters think Obama has made the debt situation and health care worse. The man who conducted the poll - Democrat Peter Hart - concluded that "Obama's chances for re-election... are no better than 50-50."

Comment: Unfortunately, a change in the Oval Office is unlikely to improve things for the majority of Americans.
US: Romney: 'I'm Not Concerned About the Very Poor'
Romney Justifies Denying Health Care To People With Pre-Existing Conditions: 'We Can't Play The Game Like That'
Mitt Romney: Alien or Psychopath?


Bizarro Earth

The War on Gays

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© Mr. Fish
The sentencing of Dharun Ravi for the hateful abuse that may have driven his gay roommate at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, to commit suicide, or Barack Obama's public acceptance of gay marriage, prevents many of us from seeing that life for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people is getting worse - much worse.

No one understands this better than the gay activist and pastor Mel White. White, along with his husband and partner of 30 years, Gary Nixon, founded Soulforce, an organization committed to using nonviolent resistance to end religion-based oppression. White and hundreds of Soulforce volunteers protest outside megachurches that preach hatred and bigotry in the name of religion. White travels to communities where young gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people have committed suicide. He holds memorial services for them in front of the church doors. He accuses the pastors of these churches of murder. His books "Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America" and "Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tell Us to Deny Gay Equality," are two of the most important works that examine the innate cruelty and proto-fascism of the Christian right. White, more than perhaps any other preacher in the country, has pulled young men and women back from the brink of despair, from succumbing to the tragic fate of Tyler Clementi. And White is scared.

Attention

Illegal Kidney Trade on Rise as Demand Outstrips Supply

Kidney Trade
© Reuters
Shocking reveal ... lax law enforcement in countries such as Pakistan has resulted in a flourishing market for kidney trade.
SHANGHAI: The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that about 10,000 operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, amounting to more than one an hour, World Health Organisation experts have revealed.

Evidence collected by a worldwide network of doctors shows that traffickers are defying laws intended to curtail their activities, and are cashing in on rising international demand for replacement kidneys driven by the increase in diabetes and other diseases.

Patients, many of whom will go to China, India or Pakistan for surgery, can pay up to $US200,000 for a kidney to gangs who harvest organs from vulnerable, desperate people, sometimes for as little as $US5000.

The vast sums to be made by both traffickers and surgeons have been underlined by the arrest by Israeli police last week of 10 people, including a doctor, suspected of belonging to an international organ trafficking ring and of committing extortion, tax fraud and grievous bodily harm. Other illicit organ trafficking rings have been uncovered in India and Pakistan.

One organ broker contacted in China advertises his services under the slogan, ''Donate a kidney, buy the new iPad!'' He offered $4000 for a kidney and said the operation could be performed within 10 days.

The resurgence of trafficking has prompted the WHO to suggest that humanity itself is being undermined by the vast profits involved and the division between poor people who undergo ''amputation'' for cash and the wealthy sick who sustain the body parts trade.

Cow Skull

Poverty Rate Increasing Among U.S. Retirees

pensioner
© iStockphoto
The gap between the wealthiest and poorest retirees is growing

Growing numbers of older Americans are spending their retirement years in poverty, according to a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute study. The proportion of older people living below the poverty line has been growing steadily since 2005, and many of those people are falling into poverty as they age and spend down their savings.

Poverty rates for people ages 65 to 74 climbed from 7.9 percent in 2005 to 9.4 percent in 2009, according to the EBRI analysis of University of Michigan health and retirement study data. For older retirees ages 75 to 84, there was an even steeper increase, from 7.6 percent to 10.7 percent over the same time period. But it's the oldest retirees who are the most likely to live in poverty: 14.6 percent did so in 2009.

Many older Americans are falling into poverty as they age. In 2009, the most recent year included in the study, 6 percent of those age 85 older were new entrants in poverty, up from 4.6 percent in 2005. And while 3.3 percent of people ages 75 to 84 fell newly into poverty in 2005, that number increased to 5.6 percent by 2009.

Magnify

Syngenta Agrees to Settle Herbicide Lawsuit

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© joemohrtoons.com
Swiss chemical maker Syngenta's agreement to pay $105 million to settle a nearly 8-year-old lawsuit over one of its popular agricultural herbicides could help reimburse nearly 2,000 community water systems that have had to filter the chemical from its drinking water, a plaintiffs' attorneys said Friday, May 25.

The proposed deal, announced Friday by Syngenta, must be approved by a federal judge in southern Illinois, where community water systems from at least a half-dozen states have sought to have the company reimburse them for filtering weed-killing atrazine from their supplies.

As part of the deal, some 1,887 community water systems serving more than 52 million Americans may be eligible to make a claim, said Stephen Tillery, the St. Louis attorney behind the class-action lawsuit.

Stormtrooper

Leaked Memo Exposes Toxic US 'Burn Pit' in Afghanistan Another 'Agent Orange scenario'?

January 2012. An Army memo from 2011 found the burn pit is associated with
© U.S. Army
A bulldozer dumps a load of trash into a burn pit just 300 yards from the runway at Bagram Airfield, January 2012. An Army memo from 2011 found the burn pit is associated with "long-term" health effects on soldiers at Bagram.
A recently leaked 2011 Army memo obtained by Danger Room reveals startling negligence by US officials regarding 'burn pits', or toxic waste sites at US bases in Afghanistan.

The leaked memo outlines the "long-term adverse health conditions" for troops breathing in toxic air from military trash burning sites. The adverse health affects have previously been hidden from public knowledge; however, the leaked memo states that high concentrations of dust and burned waste from such burn pits can cause "reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, atherosclerosis, or other cardiopulmonary diseases."

The memo specifically references Bagram airfield's apparently infamous 'burn pit' known by its expansiveness and pungent smell -- a "smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks," according to Spencer Ackerman at the Danger Room.

Alarm Clock

Campaign calls for open investigations into deaths of mental health patients

Mental health campaigner Janey Antoniou, photographed in 1999. Antoniou died in 2010 at a hospital in north London.
© Graham Turner/Guardian
Mental health campaigner Janey Antoniou, photographed in 1999. Antoniou died in 2010 at a hospital in north London.
Anger as hospital's internal inquiry into death of leading schizophrenia campaigner Janey Antoniou not made public

Campaigners are fighting for investigations into the deaths of mental health hospital patients - of which there are on average one a day in England and Wales - to be independent and open to scrutiny.

The move follows an inquest into the death of Janey Antoniou, a leading mental health campaigner who had influenced many organisations including Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatry and Rethink Mental Illness.

Janey, 53, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 30. She campaigned tirelessly, acting as an advocate for those using mental health services and becoming a trainer with services such as the police. She died in 2010 in her room at Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, London.

Pistol

Gunman in Indiana Office Standoff Identified

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© The Associated Press/The Times of Northwest Indiana/Jon L. Hendricks
Police enter the Prudential Executive Group Real Estate office Friday, May 25, 2012, in Valpariso, Ind., where a gunman was holding an unknown number of hostages before shooting himself twice in the head.
Valparaiso, Indiana - A Texas man who took hostages in a northwestern Indiana realty office and held police at bay for several hours suffered three gunshot wounds before dying, likely from two different weapons, a coroner said Saturday.

Roy L. Ferguson, 48, of Fulshear, Texas, died at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said. That was two hours after the end of the nearly seven-hour standoff at Prudential Executive Group Real Estate office in Valparaiso, about 40 miles southeast of Chicago.

"The likelihood of all three gunshot wounds coming from the same weapon is not good," Harris said. He said that wouldn't be confirmed until an autopsy is performed. It had not yet been scheduled because of Memorial Day weekend.

Valparaiso Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Grennes said Saturday that Ferguson had only one firearm - a handgun. Grennes also said the SWAT officers who rushed inside the office after hearing gunshots at 4:30 p.m. did not fire on Ferguson, but officers exchanged gunfire with Ferguson when the standoff started.

Asked Saturday if police had shot Ferguson, Grennes said, "It's under investigation."

The Times of Munster posted a video report on its website showing police officers crawling through a window of a Valparaiso house owned and rented out by Ferguson to execute a search warrant. The newspaper said Ferguson moved to Texas about four years ago after his wife died.